Feds grant $65M for technologically advanced transportation

Grants will help fight congestion, increase connectivity and improve access to opportunity

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced $65 million in grants to 19 communities for advanced technology transportation projects at the recent White House Frontiers Conference on the future of innovation. One focus of the conference was on how new transportation innovations are transforming American cities.

“From automated vehicles to connected infrastructure to data analytics, technology is transforming how we move around our country, and some of the most exciting innovation is happening at the local level,” said Foxx. “These grants will enable cities and rural communities to harness new technologies to tackle hard problems like reducing congestion, connecting people to mass transit and enhancing safety.”

Grantees are expected to leverage the funds to provide for $170 million in projects associated with smart city technologies. Projects will improve the efficiency of highway systems and integrate new mobility tools.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in New York will receive $7.8 million for its connected vehicle program. The program will use multiple communication methods to alert truckers to border wait times and available parking. The program is designed to reduce congestion in the Buffalo-Niagara area.

The city and county of San Francisco, Calif., will receive about $11 million for the Smart City Connected program. The project combines tolling for the Bay Bridge with incentives for high occupancy vehicles and other congestion-reducing efforts.

Valley Metro Rail of Phoenix, Ariz., will receive $1 million to implement a smart phone mobility platform that includes mobile ticketing and multimodal trip planning. The app will integrate with ride-hailing, bike sharing and car sharing companies.

The city of Palo Alto, Calif., will receive $1.1 million for a commuter planning project. The program will include integrated trip reduction software, a multi-modal trip planning app and workplace parking rebates.

The grants are being awarded through two U.S. Department of Transportation initiatives: the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program run by the Federal Highway Administration, and the Mobility on Demand Sandbox program overseen by the Federal Transit Administration.

A total of $300 million was awarded at the Frontiers Conference in various areas of innovation. Brain research initiatives received $70 million, precision medicine projects received $16 million, small satellite technology projects received $50 million and  $165 million in public and private funds went to support cities in using technology to solve issues. Click here for details.


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Postal service develops smart cities projects

With the rise of digital communication over the last two decades, it might be easy to forget just how essential the U.S. Postal Service has been in developing the nation. Under the constitutional mandate to establish post offices and post roads, the formation of the postal service created not only dependable communication; it also provided for a transportation infrastructure.

Now, the postal service seems to be renewing its pioneering spirit with innovative smart city pilot projects. The programs would outfit mail carrier vehicles to collect an array of data. Vehicles could be equipped to detect potholes and safety issues in bridges, monitor air quality and leaking pipes and identify blight.

iot-postalAs cities around the country develop smart city initiatives to utilize data to improve the quality of life for citizens, the postal service seeks to provide possible solutions. The postal service has a vast infrastructure of carriers, vehicles, post offices and mailboxes that could facilitate the collection of multiple types of data for local governments.

In a Sept. 26 report from the USPS Office of Inspector General, the agency described interviews with city, university and private-sector stakeholders involved in smart city projects and identified five potential pilot projects.

“The OIG believes that these projects represent a substantial opportunity for the postal service to better utilize its assets, promote the public good, generate goodwill and possibly generate new revenue,” the report states. “The postal service can also participate in and help shape the national smart cities conversation.”

If adopted, projects like those identified could help the postal service strengthen its role as a national multi-connected infrastructure. The postal network covers every community nationwide and its vehicles travel down almost every road, including roads that city and county vehicles may not regularly cover. The network would allow data to be generated nationally, regionally, locally or along a specific route.

In Pittsburgh, the postal service has proposed two projects. The first would assess road conditions by analyzing images with vehicle-mounted cameras. City officials could catch cracks before they became potholes using software created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for that purpose.

A second pilot project to monitor bridge conditions in Pittsburgh would also be done in collaboration with CMU. Researchers are testing accelerometers to collect vibration data that can be used to analyze the structural condition of bridges. The postal service would install the devices on vehicles which frequently travel across the city’s bridges to collect data that researchers will use to fine-tune the analyses.

A pilot project in Montgomery County, Md., would help manage water infrastructure by identifying lack of pressure and leaks. Pressure sensors installed in fire hydrants and acoustic sensors on water pipes can detect problems, but there is a difficulty in transmitting the problems to the water department. Gateways installed in passing postal vehicles could pick up alerts from sensors and transmit the data to officials.

Urban blight in the New York Capital Region could be identified early by postal carriers in a fourth pilot project. Carriers could use an app to report potential problems like vacant or distressed properties to officials in the cities of the region. Cities could then send out inspectors for an official investigation.

The last pilot project would monitor air quality in Portland, Ore. The city would like to monitor the impact changes to its transportation infrastructure have on air quality. Mobile sensors could be installed in postal vehicles to monitor air quality.

Postal service officials are working to answer questions about data ownership, privacy, security and business models before any of the projects can be implemented. A number of other projects in more nascent stages are also being considered. No matter which projects are eventually adopted, there is no question the ubiquity of the postal service is a national resource that should not be ignored as the use of data to improve public services continues to evolve.


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All roads lead to self-driving cars

Self-driving cars have been so long on the horizon that some people may be surprised to see them popping up all over the county. Though research and testing on modern autonomous vehicles has been going on since the 1980s, seeing a car with no steering wheel in the adjacent lane on the highway could be a little jarring.

Self-driving car
Photo By Grendelkhan, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Across the nation, the infrastructure is being installed to make sure vehicles can stay connected to the systems that allow them to function without a driver. As up to 90 percent of traffic-related deaths and injuries are due to driver error, many are anxious to make the dream of driverless vehicles a reality. Most major automakers have announced plans to sell fully autonomous vehicles in the next five years.

Ohio Turnpike officials have announced plans to test self-driving cars on the road connecting Chicago to the East coast within 12 months. A 241-mile area of Interstate 80 in Ohio will be the initial testing ground. Fiber optic cable along the highway allows vehicles connected to a network to relay information and collect testing data.  The state highway department has plans to install more fiber optic cable and create an additional testing area on U.S. 33 near Columbus.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is also working on a fiber network for a 550-mile stretch of the toll road.  The agency touts the usefulness of the network for several applications, one of which could be self-driving cars. Through a public-private partnership (P3/PPP), plans call for a private company to build the broadband system and lease excess space on the system to other private companies. The arrangement would generate revenue that could be used to improve the roadway.

Also in the Keystone State, one ride-sharing company will launch a fleet of self-driving cars this month to chauffer customers around Pittsburgh. However, a human will have to be stationed at the controls throughout the testing phase.

Federal guidelines for autonomous cars on public roads are expected soon, but in the meantime many states have passed their own legislation. As early as 2012 New Jersey passed legislation to make the state a hub for development, testing and implementation of driverless vehicles. More recently, the Michigan Senate introduced a bill in May to make it legal for cars with no driver to operate on Michigan roads.

Although the rules for self-driving car are still being formed, construction of infrastructure to support the vehicles is well on its way. Lacking a critical setback, it seems as if the children of today may be the last generation to ever be required to learn how to drive a car.

Arkansas creates P3 to advance financial technology

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a public-private partnership (P3/PPP) to expand the state’s High Tech Accelerator initiative.

A financial services technology company will partner with an accelerator program at the state’s Venture Center to boost the development of startups focused on financial technology through 2018.

“Arkansas is developing a national reputation for technology both as a result of the major technology companies in Arkansas and because of Arkansas leading the nation in computer science education.  Our new high tech accelerator initiative is an innovative way for the state to attract new technology companies and to support our existing industry,” said Hutchinson in a statement.

The next phase of the initiative will include a comprehensive accelerator plan to be presented to the state legislature in January.